The city of Athens is the capital and largest city of modern Greece. With a recorded history spanning 3,400 years, and being inhabited for far longer, it is one of the oldest cities in the world. The city helped lay the foundations of democratic rule and western civilization as we know it today. Athens was the center of the short-lived Athenian Empire, which started in 454 B.C., peaked in 450 B.C. and dissolved at the end of the Peloponnesian war in 404 B.C.
During his second missionary journey the Apostle Paul, along with Timothy and Silas, travel to Berea. Although the Bereans are very receptive to the Gospel message Jews from another city arrive seeking to cause trouble for the apostle. He decides to travel alone to Athens and instructs Timothy and Silas to meet him there.
While waiting in Athens for his traveling companions Paul preaches the Gospel to any Athenian who would listen. Some who hear his message are Epicureans (followers of Epicurus). They believe the highest aim of man is to seek a pleasant life. Others who hear him are Stoics. The Stoics believe that man's happiness consists of bringing himself into harmony with the universe.
After the Epicureans and Stoics in Athens dispute with Paul over his message, they take him to the Areopagus (or Mars Hill as the Romans call it) to further explain what he teaches. Paul uses an altar he saw dedicated to "an unknown god" as a springboard for teaching about the REAL God that CAN be known:
"And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, 'May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak?'
"Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, 'Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.'
"'Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: . . . ' " (Acts 17:19, 22-23, NKJV)